Smokin’ Hot: 17 Top Barbecue Joints in Rhode Island
Our guide to the Ocean State's sweet and sticky barbecue scene.
Wood You Rather?
Learn about meat, heat and time: the three fundamentals of barbecue. By Jamie Samons
When it comes to barbecue, not just any heat will do: Barbecue requires smoke, an ancient way to impart deliciousness during a long, slow cooking process. Almost any hardwood can provide acceptable smoke due to low resin and high flavor, but wood preferences vary from region to region and from pit to pit. In Texas, for example, abundant Mesquite trees provide the state’s preferred smoke. In Alabama, pitmasters often choose hickory, but native oak and pecan also play a role in the region’s signature pulled pork. We polled several ’cue gurus in little Rhody on their picks for sublime smoke.
Great Northern BBQ
Type of Smoker: Custom-built from a repurposed steel oil tank.
Wood: Red oak, which is indigenous to Rhode Island and has, according to head chef Jimmy James Caruso, “a weird, funky, gorgonzola-like aroma.”
Meats smoked: All the usuals (beef, chicken, pork) plus specialty items from the wood-fired grill like steaks, shrimp and fish.
Rub/marinade: Most of the meat is rubbed or brined with secret in-house preparations; sauces riff on traditional offerings. Fosterglocesterbama White Sauce is Great Northern’s answer to Alabama white sauce (mayo, horseradish, vinegar), while Vinegar of the Four Thieves BBQ uses tangy Carolina sauce as a launching pad for a herbal condiment with a name that invokes medieval English folklore.
Need to know: “Every culture has slow-cooked meat,” Caruso says. “We try to bring those world influences to our barbecue.” The menu includes inventive use of spices (sumac, curry, tamari) and non-traditional approaches to greens, like bok choy or wakame, as stand-ins for collards or slaw.
9 Parade St., Providence, 421-1513, facebook.com/greatnorthernbbqco
Johnny’s BBQ (aka Johnny’s Victory Diner)
Type of Smoker: Barrel smoker providing indirect heat, custom-built in Georgia for owners, John and Rhonda Hanaway. It holds up to forty pork butts or fifty racks of ribs and can travel on a trailer to events throughout northern Rhode Island.
Wood: Oak sourced on the Hanaway’s property and applewood from Steere Orchard in Smithfield. “The apple provides some sweetness, while the oak brings the heat,” says John Hanaway.
Meats smoked: Beef brisket (including burnt ends), pork butts and ribs, sausages and chicken wings.
Rub/marinade: Johnny’s uses an in-house rub for all the meats; it’s available for sale in the diner. Sauces include mild and spicy tomato-based sauces and a honey-sriracha glaze used for pulled pork sliders and smoked chicken wings.
Need to know: John Hanaway studied with barbecue legend Myron Mixon, “the winningest man in barbecue.” The ’cue is available on Fridays from noon to
8 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m. through Labor Day weekend, but smoky specials often show
up on the diner’s lunch menu throughout the week. Plans are underway for an outdoor dining area. Save room for Johnny’s Southern-influenced sides; the smashed cheddar Goldfish mac-n-cheese takes your favorite childhood snack to a new level. 2731 Victory Hwy., Burrillville, 765-2661, johnnysvictorydiner.com
Smoke and Squeal BBQ
Type of Smoker: Southern Pride SGR400, a travelling gas-powered dynamo that can smoke eighteen briskets or seventy-two chickens at a time.
Wood: Oak without the bark. “Oak really lets the flavor of
the meat shine through, but bark can impart ‘off’ flavors,” says owner Adam Batchelder. Smoke and Squeal sources oak from a top-secret supplier.
Meats smoked: Texas-style beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork and chicken.
Rub/marinade: The beef brisket is treated with only salt, pepper and turbinado sugar. Pork and chicken each get rubbed with a bespoke seasoning mix. Diners can add housemade sauces as they wish: Kansas City Red Maple Bourbon, Memphis Sweet and Spicy, BBQ Fire, Carolina Yellow and Pickled Pig Juice, a Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce.
Need to know: Smoke and Squeal’s smokers are built right into the food truck and trailer, meaning that meats go directly from smoker to plate: no warming chambers. Batchelder earned his degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales while serving in the Marine Corps Reserve in Iraq. Food truck and trailer locations listed at facebook.com/smokeandsquealbbq; sandwiches and other bites available at 881 Main St., Pawtucket, 617-595-7646, smokeandsquealbbq.com
Type of Smoker: A pit-style smoker from Texas-based JR Manufacturing called the Little Red Smokehouse. Despite its compact size, it can hold up to 250 pounds of meat at a time. Mark D. Bryson, owner of Binge, lauds the smoker’s ability to control heat. “We’ve got it fired up six days a week,” Bryson says. He also gives the meat a long rest in a CVap cook and hold unit after taking it off the smoker.
Wood: Seasoned oak responsibly harvested from Simply Local Wood in Fall River.
Meats smoked: In addition to brisket, pork shoulder, pork belly and ribs, Binge also offers house-made sausages and smoked turkey. Bryson crafts house pastrami, pâtés and other charcuterie, thanks to skills honed in his days as a fine dining chef.
Rub/marinade: A simple salt and pepper rub goes on all the meats. The house sauce is tomato-based, but there’s also vinegar-based, white, mustard and even hoisin-style sauces.
Need to know: Binge’s restaurant is BYOB, and also has an impressive array of housemade desserts. Vegan chili is also available for non-meat eaters. The restaurant stays open until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and offers delivery in the Newport area. The restaurant was featured last fall on chef Michael Symon’s Food Network show, “Burgers, Brew and ’Que.” 12 Broadway, Newport, 619-3799, bingebbqri.com (dine-in and takeout); plus two year-round food trailers that pop up at festivals, events and private parties.
Type of Smoker: A Southern Pride closed pit that owner Bob Bringhurst bought more than twenty years ago, when he and his late childhood sweetheart, Becky, started the restaurant. The pit provides indirect heat and smoke; the racking system allows juices from meat on the upper shelves to drip onto the lower shelves as the shelves rotate, ensuring even cooking.
Wood: Pig nut hickory, sourced from Connecticut.
Meats smoked: Beef brisket, pork shoulder and ribs and chicken.
Rub/marinade: All the meats get a massage of Bringhurst’s housemade dry rub. To amp up the Carolina factor of the pork, he will often place a pan of vinegar in the smoker to add tangy steam. Sweet Kansas City, vinegar-y North Carolina and mustard-based Kentucky/South Carolina sauces are available.
Need to know: Bringhurst got his pit education in Alabama, after a career in corporate telecommunications technology. When Bob and Becky started the restaurant, she was fighting breast cancer. She funded the restaurant and the barbecue pit, but unfortunately didn’t survive a second battle with breast cancer in 2004. Bob honors Becky every day by serving treasured recipes gathered from her travels, including the three-bean bake, potato salad and coleslaw. “I would often find her
in the kitchen peeling potatoes at 1 a.m. just to make sure everything was ready for the next day,” says Bob. “She was one of a kind.”
82 East Main Rd., Middletown, 841-9909, beckysbbq.com